Taking the podium in Europe 

Max Planck scientists receive more ERC Advanced Grants than any other institution

February 04, 2011

Max Planck scientists have once again received the most funding in the third round of the competition held by the European Research Council (ERC). Fourteen Directors and a Group Leader at Max Planck institutes were the recipients of Advanced Grants worth a combined value of almost 35 million euros. This is equivalent to a success rate of 50 percent. The Max Planck Society has thus strengthened its leading position in Europe. The MPS also came out on top with respect to Starting Grants: ten of its junior scientists received the coveted award – an achievement that was not matched by any other research facility in Germany.

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Since the European Research Council was founded in the 7th Research Framework Programme in 2007, it has conferred these special awards on an annual basis. In the conferral of Advanced Grants, the Max Planck Society raised the bar at every round of the competition, with its success rate growing from 28.5 % in 2007 to 32% in 2008, to a staggering 50% in 2010 – well above the ERC average of about 13%. "The society is at the very top, just where it belongs", said Rüdiger Hesse from the MPS Brussels office, commenting on this excellent position. "This shows that this funding instrument is being widely embraced by the Max Planck institutes."

The Max Planck Society not only enjoys a leading position in Germany, having won a third of all Advanced Grants ever conferred (ahead of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich with 4 grants), but also takes the podium at European level. Following the Max Planck Society in second place is Europe's largest organisation for basic research, the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and in third place is the University of Cambridge in England.

All ERC Advanced Grants – each with an average value of 2.2 million euros – are awarded to leading researchers in Europe in recognition of outstanding achievements in their specialist field over a period of ten years. The purpose of the grant is to give them the freedom to carry out research on attractive new projects, making the grant something like a European excellence initiative for individual researchers. The researchers and projects are therefore selected based on the strictest criteria of scientific excellence. The following Max Planck Society scientists have been recipients of this award:

  • Linda Partridge (MPI for the Biology of Ageing): Experimental research into ageing
  • Nils-Göran Larsson (MPI for the Biology of Ageing): Regulation of gene expression in mammalian mitochondria
  • Klaus-Armin Nave (MPI for Experimental Medicine): The role of myelinating glia in preserving axon function
  • Alfred Wittinghofer (MPI for Molecular Physiology): The role of Arl proteins in retinal and other ciliary diseases
  • Herbert Waldmann (MPI for Molecular Physiology): Systems chemical biology – Chemical biological perturbation and dissection of dynamic biological systems
  • Jürgen Jost (MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences): Variational problems of physics and geometry
  • Gregor Morfill (MPI for Extraterrestrial Physics): Interdisciplinary research: Connecting complex plasmas with colloidal dispersions
  • Benjamin List (MPI for Coal Research): High performance Lewis acid organocatalysis
  • Klaus Müllen (MPI for Polymer Research): The chemist’s way of making and utilizing perfect graphenes
  • Mikhail Eremets (MPI for Chemistry): Exploring conductive and metallic hydrogen
  • Steve Allen Vertovec (MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity): Migration and New Diversities in Global Cities
  • Angela Friederici (MPI for Cognitive and Brain Sciences): Neural basis of syntax in the developing brain
  • Stephen Levinson (MPI for Psycholinguistics): The interaction engine: Interactive foundations for communication
  • Theodor Hänsch* (MPI for Quantum Optics): Multidimensional laser frequency comb spectroscopy of molecules
  • Vahid Sandogahdar* (MPI for Physics of Light): Spectroscopy and microscopy of single ions in the solid state

The last two Max Planck Directors mentioned above even raise the number of Advanced Grants to 15. However, according to the official statistics of the ERC, these two grants are not considered as grants for Max Planck Society scientists, as Theodor Hänsch acquired the funding for the University of Munich, where he also holds a position, and the newly-appointed physicist Vahid Sandogdhar received his grant when he was still a researcher at ETH Zurich.

A total of 2009 project proposals for Advanced Grants were submitted to the ERC for assessment; the selected 266 projects give rise to a success rate of 13% on average for the three funding areas of life sciences, technology/physics/engineering, and social sciences and humanities. Max Planck scientists were particularly successful in the area of social sciences and humanities, although this field receives the least funding. The three project applications submitted were all awarded Advanced Grants.

In the late autumn of last year, several junior scientists from Max Planck institutes also rose to the challenge of meeting the ERC's criteria of excellence in order to receive funding within the framework of the Starting Grants – each Starting Grant comes with an average research funding of 1.3 million euros. Here also, the Max Planck Society came out on top, winning 10 of the 66 awards conferred to scientists working in Germany. The following researchers were recipients of this grant: Christian Doeller (MPI for Biological Cybernetics), Damien Faivre (MPI for Colloids and Interfaces), Eleftherios Goulielmakis (MPI for Quantum Optics), Gáspár Jékely (MPI for Developmental Biology), Markus Kaiser (MPI for Molecular Physiology), Jean-Luc Lehners (MPI for Gravitational Physics), Silke Ospelkaus (MPI for Complex Systems Physics) Brienna Perelli-Harris (MPI for Demographic Research), Arndt Siekmann (MPI for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics) and Pavel Tomancak (MPI for Molecular Biomedicine). Researchers at facilities of the Helmholtz Association were awarded nine Starting Grants. This was followed by the Technical University in Berlin, which received five grants, and the University of Heidelberg and the TU München, each receiving four grants.

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